New Year’s Check-Up


January 4, 2018 by Jean

imageOne of my favorite rituals for New Year’s Day is to review the year that has just ended and make plans for the coming year. My typical New Year’s review focuses primarily on finances, as I balance my household accounts and set up my budget for the coming year. In this post, I’d like to extend that review by checking in about my physical and psychological health as well as my financial health.

Financial Health

When I retired at age 66, my goal was to support myself with savings and funds from a traditional IRA until age 70, when I would begin collecting Social Security benefits. I wasn’t sure my savings would last until my seventieth birthday, mostly because I spent more of those savings than I had expected at the beginning of my retirement to finance the addition on my house. While I have cut it close, I will make it. My birthday is in March, which means that I will begin receiving Social Security benefits in April; and I currently have four months of living expenses left in savings. It helped that I have been receiving a small Social Security benefit from my ex-husband’s account for the past three years, a benefit that has also paid my Part B Medicare premium. I don’t yet know how much my monthly benefit will be under my own Social Security coverage, but I expect it to be a bit more than my current monthly budget.

Because I will turn seventy in March, this is also the year when I must begin to take required minimum distributions from my 403(b) retirement savings. I don’t need these funds for living expenses, but I will use them to replenish my depleted savings account at the bank, providing an emergency fund and money for travel.

For the first three years of my retirement, my former employer provided health insurance to supplement Medicare, including prescription drug, dental, and vision coverage. Beginning this year, I would be on my own to buy supplemental insurance. Or that’s what I thought. After I had done my research and chosen a Medicare Advantage plan with a low monthly premium that includes prescription drug coverage, I learned that I will be getting a monthly stipend from my employer to help cover medical expenses. I don’t know how I missed knowing that this stipend was part of my retirement plan, but I had no idea. It’s a pleasant surprise, especially since the stipend exceeds my Medicare Advantage premium by more than $100 per month. I will use these funds to buy myself an individual dental insurance policy and to pay for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance under my Medicare Advantage plan. I fully expect the stipend to cover 100% of these expenses, which will make the $100 per month I’ve budgeted for medical expenses available for other things.

All in all, as I begin the fourth year of my retirement, I’m feeling like I have a handle on my retirement finances and that I have more than enough to live comfortably.

Physical Health

2017 was an uneventful year in terms of my physical health. The only blips were a tick bite in the spring (not a deer tick or Lyme disease), some arthritis in my hands, and weight gain (especially over the holidays). I didn’t do as much walking as I might have liked during the good weather, but I didn’t have any episodes of spinal disk problems requiring medication or physical therapy. I also worked on my physical fitness this year with a program of standing on one foot (each foot in turn, morning and night) to improve my balance. When I began, I couldn’t stand on one foot for even thirty seconds, now I am up to three minutes on each foot twice a day. In the process, I’ve also improved my core strength.

In 2018, I’d like to get back into a walking regimen of at least 15 miles per week during the months I can walk outdoors. The winter months, when it is too icy to walk outdoors, have been a problem for me. But my new Medicare Advantage plan includes a Silver Sneakers® gym membership, which I can use at a gym less than 6 miles from my house. I’m hoping to get into a schedule of driving to the gym to walk on the treadmill three times a week until spring. While I’m there, I may also see if I can get help with some kind of strength training program.

Psychological Health

As a general rule, my psychological health is very good. I am an optimistic person who is not prone to depression and who has good coping and stress-management skills. Nevertheless, I have noticed a slight increase in my levels of anxiety during the past few months. Some of this may be a response to the challenges of winter in Maine, which seem more daunting as I get older. Most of the increase in anxiety, however, seems to be an unanticipated response to having acquired my first cell phone. For years, I have been under pressure from family and friends to get a cell phone, for “peace of mind” in case of an emergency. The pressure ramped up in late summer, after I had a flat tire on a rural road and my lack of a cellphone created problems communicating with my roadside assistance provider. I keep the cell phone in a “go bag” that I take with me whenever I go out in the car. There’s no question that having it with me when I drove down to Pennsylvania and back in the fall eased worries about breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Surprisingly, though, taking it with me when I’m out doing errands makes me worry about breaking down in situations where it never would have occurred to me to worry before! Paradoxically, I think the solution is going to be to use the cell phone more, not just in emergencies, so that I “normalize” its presence.

Despite the slight increase in anxiety, I consider myself happy and healthy. This year, I feel as though I got the mix of scheduled activities and free time, of socializing and solitude just right. As I approach my seventieth birthday, I feel as though I am coming into the best years of my life and I’m looking forward to the year ahead.

12 thoughts on “New Year’s Check-Up

  1. Charles F. Emmons says:

    I think that your standing on one foot is great. Balance is an undervalued skill. I do 4 balance poses every morning as part of my yoga routine. I guess they amount to about your 3 minutes. Several times last winter I avoided (or minimized the effects of) falling down on ice many times, which I attribute to my good balance, which has improved a lot in recent years thanks to yoga.

    • Jean says:

      Charlie, A friend suggested last year that I could work on improving my balance. Like you, I have already seen a payoff in moments of tripping or slipping that did not end in falls.

  2. Jean R. says:

    With all the changes coming up in your life with Social Security and taking distributions this next year will be interesting to someone like you who enjoys taking “check-ups” like you do. I’ve been getting the distributions for three years and I still hate it. I don’t need the money and I should re-invest it some place but it just sits there making me feel stupid for not doing something with it. I have trust issues with financial advisers.

    Your idea of using your cell phone more is a good one. They are different than land lines and when you need it the most, you may not have time or the ability to remember how to do what you need to. It’s also easier to keep them charged up when you see it daily. I made a plastic covered card to clip on my purse that reminds me to pack my phone when I leave the house…that idea could work for your ‘go bag.’

    Stay warm!

    • GARY says:

      Jean R. There are no risk ways to invest that money without being “conned” by a financial adviser. I think it is important to get some return on your money because inflation makes it less valuable every year. If nothing else you can will it to a hospital or charity and they will reap the rewards of your investments. (Or you can give it too me). Just kidding on the last part. 🙂 Good luck. Gary

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Right now my cell phone lives in my go-bag, except when I take it out once a week to charge it. The go bag has turned out to be a great idea. During the winter when I have the wood stove going, I always worry a little bit more about house fires. Before I go to bed each night, I stick a couple of flash drives with back-ups of critical computer files, my car keys and a flashlight in the go bag and put it, along with my wallet, winter boots and wool socks, wool hat and mittens, by the exit closest to my bedroom.
      Have you thought about something like simple index stock and/or bond funds with very low fees (e.g., from Vanguard) as a place to invest your required minimum distributions?

  3. GARY says:

    Good plan Jean. Your perspective as the years go on helps me immensely. I am a little younger than you and a retired federal worker, who also collects a National guard retirement. I receive VA benefits too so I am ok financially, but it is always good to remind yourself about your physical heath and mental health. Thank you. Gary.

    • Jean says:

      Gary, You are welcome. One of my goals when I started this blog was to focus less on financial aspects of retirement and more on often-neglected quality of life issues.

  4. Honey Bee says:

    I, too, was told to get a cell phone when my husband died. So I got a basic one that someone recommended and hardly ever used it. I even considered not having a cellphone. Then one of my shuttle drivers said, “If you only need it once, it’s worth it.” I value his heartfelt counsel, so got an updated version, but still without data, and love it.

    It was like a new toy at Christmas. It takes fabulous photos, has a built in flashlight, has lovely texting capabilities, and, if I’m at a place that has wifi, I can check email or browse the internet. I just purchased a new cover for it in pretty pink gold and am so very pleased with it. I’ve had it for several years now and take it everywhere. When I travel, it serves as my alarm clock.

    It stores my photos so that they are always accessible to share with friends.

    I think the part that tickles me the most is that I chose it myself. At a simple kiosk in my neighbourhood mall. They are there to help me and answer any of my questions. There is also a 24/7 call service.

    When I first got it, I didn’t even know how to answer a call, so I had the baristas at Starbucks teach me, one lesson at a time. They were great.

    I think I’ve encouraged a lot of people to get a cellphone because I am so pleased with this company’s service. By the way, it was free, with a two year contract.

    Hope you get to enjoy your phone. Mine is a great travelling companion.

    All the best in 2018,
    Honey Bee

    • Jean says:

      Honey Bee, Thanks for your perspective on the cell phone. I think my perspective on it is colored (negatively) by the fact that coverage is so spotty in rural Maine. I cannot get a signal inside my house, for example, only by going outside.

      • Diana Studer says:

        that would get tiresome in winter. I ignore mine, but have it by me in the evening – when I check for messages on SMS and Whatsapp. It is good to have, but another learning curve.

  5. Hello, Jean! I’m happy to know that you are starting to get the hang of being in control of your finances. Medicare, Medicare supplement plans and Advantage plans can be confusing, and I am glad you found the right plan for your needs and the best part is you got a $100 more! Continue planning and revising your finances so you will be able to handle your future fairly well. Good luck to the rest of your retirement!

    • Jean says:

      Thanks, Leandro. I’ve always been good at handling finances and at doing research and making decisions. Still, it’s a bit nerve-wracking to go from saving money for retirement to spending those savings. 😉

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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